Can Internet TV Succeed?
TV manufacturers are finally embracing the Internet with a renewed vigor. But can they successfully merge the Web's vast content with our big screens?
Sony KDL-46V3000 TV
Sony’s Video Link module on its Bravia TVs, like the KDL-46V3000 46-inch LCD, lets viewers navigate web content from AOL, Yahoo and Grouper through a convenient onscreen menu.
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March 14, 2008 by Rebecca Day

Sharp is also moving into the web-enabled TV world with information provided by various content suppliers. The service, called Aquos Net, is available on the SE94U Series and D74U Series TVs ($3,199 to $10,999 for 46-, 52- and 65-inch TVs). According to Bob Scaglione, senior VP and group manager in Sharp Electronics’ product and marketing group, the TVs carry a 200 percent premium for the web access, which ties consumers both to the web and to the Sharp tech support team. If the concept proves appealing enough to consumers, Sharp will extend it to the rest of the line, Scaglione says.

To access the information, users create and configure “widgets” to check everyday information, such as stock quotes and the local weather, which consumers can view in full-screen or split-screen mode. Content includes customized forecasts from Weatherbug, stock quotes and charts from NASDAQ, comic strips from UClick and 1080p still images from Sharp Gallery. Potential future providers include NBC, Traffic.com and Gallery Player. The latter provides high-def, rights-protected images of famous artwork.

“Consumers love having instant access to information that is important to them, like weather and stocks, when they’re on the Internet,” says Scaglione. “But they spend a good deal of time relaxing in front of their televisions where their PCs may not be situated. We believe consumers would enjoy some of the same information conveniently pushed to their Aquos television so they can stay informed without having to move to another room and turn on the PC.”

In addition to Internet content, Aquos Net customers have access to Aquos Advantage Live, a feature that enables Sharp technical support staff (only with the permission of the TV owner) to access and control specific settings and diagnostics via the broadband connection. The settings range from usage-related inquiries, such as configuring the remote control for shortcuts to favorite broadcast channels, to set-up issues related to hooking up external components. Additional resources include frequently asked questions, user manuals and other information involving the TV.

The Way of the Future?
What’s next for the web-enabled TV? Will we be able to order the sweater we covet on Desperate Housewives with the click of the remote? “With the power of the Internet, anything is possible,” says Scaglione. “That’s why we’re reaching out to independent content developers to create new services that cater to the TV viewer.”

Sony’s Waynick effuses optimism for the possibilities of the web-television marriage. “Anything you can conceive of on your PC we have to train ourselves to think of in the TV environment,” he says. “The horizon offers so many opportunities that go beyond what the TV does today.”

Waynick has a strong vision of what the TV will become, and it’s far more than just streaming video content via the Internet. There’s no technical reason that the personalization of the PC can’t be transferred to the TV, he maintains, but he does note the limitations. 

“Do you want to do spreadsheets on your TV?” Waynick asks. “Probably not. But you might want to be able to tap into CBS and get a narration of how a scene was shot.” Sports fans may get the most out of the supplemental information. “Imagine watching [March Madness], and you have interactivity and CBS.com,” he says, referring to the constantly updating scores and stats. “You have instant messaging on PCs,” he says. “Imagine that dynamic injected into the home entertainment experience.”

The merger of Internet and TV won’t be without its challenges. For now, most web-based content isn’t in high definition, for instance, but is produced for the small screen for short-distance viewing. When scaled up to 1080i or 1080p at 10 feet away in the living room, the resolution will suffer, and that could easily detract from the benefits. Waynick thinks competition among content providers to show their work in the best possible light will lead to advances in resolution.

Security and technical issues could come into play as well. Scaglione notes that while the Aquos Advantage service is expected to work with most Internet service providers, there is the possibility that certain firewalls could restrict access to the service. Samsung’s Schinasi says, “Network security is typically not a concern because no sensitive personal data is sent or received.” Waynick asserts that security and viruses aren’t something to worry about with the TV, at least, because the Video Link module doesn’t connect directly to the PC. He says there are no programming codes or viruses that would be valid on a TV operating system. The networking aspects for now remain largely unchartered waters.

Despite the uncertainties, manufacturers are sanguine about the possibilities involving the Internet and the TV. “We see a very vibrant future of television—a redefining of television,” Waynick says. “TV as we know it today is going to radically change in the near future.”

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